AUGUSTA — A conservative think tank says the Maine State Housing Authority wants to charge too much money to release basic public information for a website disclosing the cost of government.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center held a news conference at the State House on Tuesday to say that a request for payroll and expenditure data from 1998 through 2010 was met with a bill for $8,710.

“The data we requested of the Maine State Housing Authority is no different than the data we requested of every other government agency on MaineOpenGov.org., yet their time and cost estimates to provide the data are, by far, the highest we have ever been quoted,” said David Crocker, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the policy center.

By comparison, the policy center said it paid nothing for similar records from the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, and for records on all welfare spending.

The group does pay $100 to $200 a year to the state and the University of Maine System for information, said Sam Adolphsen, director of the policy center’s Center for Open Government.

Dale McCormick, executive director of the housing authority, said she thought the group had agreed to revise its request, so it would cost considerably less.

Her staff estimates that gathering the data for the period from 2004 to 2010 would take 372 hours, at a cost of $3,710. By law, agencies can charge $10 an hour after the first hour of work to compile information.

“We serve over 90,000 people each year,” McCormick said. “To respond to (the policy center’s) revised request of seven years, we have to cross out personal information on well over a half a million transactions.”

Last month, the MaineHousing Board of Commissioners voted to charge the $10 hourly fee after hearing an appeal from the policy center.

“That broad of a request feels like a fishing expedition,” McCormick said. “Our board voted unanimously not to donate 10 weeks of staff time to the Maine Heritage Policy Center, an organization with a political agenda.”

The policy center launched MaineOpenGov.org in 2009 by listing the salaries and benefits paid to all state workers. It has since added information, including retirees’ pensions, local school spending and information from some cities and towns.

Adolphsen said the group never revised its request for information from the housing authority. To give the public a complete picture, he said, it’s important to list both payroll and expenditures for a longer period of time.

“Our position is, that because we’re putting it out for the public, we like to have as complete a picture as possible,” he said. “If it really takes 800 hours to get spending data together, it can’t be in very good order.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: [email protected]